Heartland Orphans

The Nightmare Continues

The coterie discuss what they now know and what they need to learn. It becomes clear that they have few options if they want to learn more about the seven Strix or their enigmatic mother. They might visit the Elder but she is unlikely to give up the ashes or the secrets of her god. Their relationship with Jane is strained. Finally a trip to the mound where this all began would leave them exposed to the unknown and the threat of the sun.

Ethan decides to write to Martock’s contact in Chicago. He asks Kiril for information on Chicago and the Strix.

Meanwhile Alex calls Thomas Black to learn the latest news with the Invictus. The drug dealer tells him about rumors of farms being burned and hit teams sent out by the Old Man. Black isn’t sure who is being eliminated. Alex gets a list of locations.

Black also tells him about some local trouble he’s been having. It seems men in dark suits have been running off his dealers in Urbana. Alex tells him that he and his friends will help watch over a dealer tonight and see who is causing this trouble.

Before heading out, Ethan researches the sites. Correlating them with Martock’s notes, he tells the others that each fire corresponds to mystical location, one held by the Circle of the Crone.

The coterie locates the scrawny dealer on a street corner near a strip of ethnic restaurants. A muscular man in a red T-shirt leans against a nearby wall, watching out for the blond haired man. Alex and Ethan find a spot atop a building down the street and watch the scene through binoculars. Sybil waits in front of a nearby parking lot.

An hour into the stakeout, a scratched up car pulls into the lot. As the jittery engine stops two men in dark suits get out. Sybil notes their thin builds and closely shaved heads. Large dark glasses obscure their eyes. Something about them seems familiar however.

As the men approach the youth dealing drugs, Alex and Ethan abandon their position to drive over. As the dealer scrambles away, the man in the T-shirt leaps into action, intercepting the assailants. The tough fights with the skill of a practiced brawler but faced with two attackers he finds himself matched. He suffers as much as he belts out.

The attackers bruised and bloody chose to retreat from the fight. As they hurry to their car, Sybil sticks out her leg and trips one. As his nose smashes into the concrete, the other hurries to the car without even glancing back.

Meanwhile Alex drives past the brawler nursing a bruised arm and pulls up in front of the black car. He locks eyes with the man getting into the driver’s seat and asks him to stop.

As the Ventrue interrogates the driver, Ethan exits the car and approaches the man stumbling closer with a bloody nose. He finds this man also highly susceptible to the powers of Dominate.

Alex learns the men were working under orders from Big Eddie. It seems the vampire in charge of Champaign resents Alex’s new position. Alex tells the two minions to walk home. He then donates their car to Ethan’s cult.

Afterwards, Alex calls Black and informs him of the situation. The Nosferatu thanks them for information. But he also wishes Alex and Big Eddie just work it out between them and leave his men out of it.

Just before hanging up, Black mentions that his men noticed that the lights were on at Rudolph’s house. Alex thanks him. The Ventrue and Ethan head over.

They find Rudolph’s car in the driveway and both the first and second stories lit up. They ring the bell. The elder vampire answers the door in a bathrobe. He reeks of gasoline and smoke. Rudolph explains he just returned from doing the Old Man’s work. While he doesn’t elaborate, he does question them about their own findings about the Strix.

As they excuse themselves, Ethan notes an odd scar on the elderly man’s arm. The chemical burns strangely resemble the pattern of blood splatter. He mentions it to Alex as well as pointing out the mud on the wheels of Rudolph’s car. They decide Rudolph must have just returned from destroying another coven of the Circle.

With a potential lead at risk, the pair decide to check on the Elder and her allies. They call Sybil but she opts to stay in Urbana.

The Gangrel instead patrols the town’s parks, slowly making her way toward the southwest end of town. Along the way she encounters Karen Capra as she tries to encourage some of the local homeless to move out of what will be the County Fairgrounds in a couple weeks. Sybil learns that the shelters can’t house them all.

Some of the people left in the cold have made a small camp in a park along a stream on the southwest end of Urbana. Sybil helps a few move their belongings. As they set up makeshift tents, the wind picks up and a gentle rain begins to fall.

Sybil takes cover under the trees as a summer thunderstorm blows in. The winds knock down a few tents and the vampire helps the beleaguered people to safety. The storm dies down before dawn. Sybil watches a half formed twister float away in the early morning light.

Far away, Alex drives through the storm toward the Elder’s farmhouse. His windshield wipers struggle to move the waves of rain.

Ethan’s sharp eyes pick out a large box truck crashed into a ditch on the side of the road. The back doors hang wide open, revealing stacks of empty cardboard boxes.

They pull over. Ethan checks the back while Alex investigates the driver. He find the man out cold. Curbing his hunger, the vampire checks the driver for a life threatening wounds. Suspecting a concussion, he calls the local hospital and returns to the car.

Ethan joins him after making a circuit of the vehicle. He explains nothing was odd about the back but it looks like the driver swerved to avoid a large creature. They decide to push on.

An hour before dawn, the two vampires arrive at the location of the farmhouse. Only a gentle drizzle remains of the storm, enough to obscure the scent of ashes. Charred beams and a few crumbling bones seem to be all that remains of the Circle.

Undeterred they search, uncovering signs of the earthen pit where the Antediluvian was kept. Nothing remains there. Ethan suggests that the bones outside might belong to one or two vampires at most. digging deeper they find the mostly intact remains of the root cellar they took refuge in several days ago. Inside they discover a secret tunnel leading out of the cellar and into a nearby corn field. Fresh tracks race along the escape route.

With day fast approaching they wall themselves within the cellar and sleep.

Sybil dreams of a dark wood overgrown with vines. Pale blue lights flicker in the distance, obscured by the dense undergrowth.

She transformed into a bat, fluttering upward in search of the sky. Instead she finds a denser network of branches and vines. Rather than struggle on, she flies through the nightmare realm. Near a congregation of floating blue flames, she spots a darkly cloaked figure muttering to herself and turning over faded Tarot cards.

“The Wheel of Fortune turns against the Fool. The Lovers conspire while the Devil aides both sides. The Hermit meets the Tower. The Crow foretells of doom to come,” the woman intones. She looks up directly at Sybil with a face composed of shadows.

The Witch demands to know who Sybil is, what connection she has to the Mother and where she is now. Sybil remains quiet as the Strix claims that the creator of the Strix drank of Sybil’s blood. She demands to know where that happened. Sybil again gives no answer.

The Witch threatens to curse her. Then she turns into a flock of birds and flies at Sybil. The vampire flees, choosing to avoid some ancient ruins and instead descend into a long dark tunnel.

Alex and Ethan find themselves within a darkened farmhouse. Something rustles outside the wooden walls. The many sharp and rusty tools hanging from the ceiling rock violently. Alex moves toward a mound of hay bales as the wooden floor groans beneath him. Turning around they spot a locked door on the opposite wall.

Ethan pulls on the door and discovers it chained shut from the outside. He grabs an ax from the wall. As the sharp tools swing along it, he narrowly avoids losing his fingers. He smashes the door open with the ax, revealing a dark hallway of cyclopean stone, guttering torches and large blackened mirrors.

Traversing the now familiar maze, the vampires hear the weak cries of Martock.The men follow the sound. Ethan leads the charge but becomes lost at an intersection. Alex picks the right path and they press on. Elsewhere in the labyrinth, Sybil’s bat-like hearing also picks up the captive vampire as well as the movements of her comrades and some distant sighs. She choses to seek out Martock.

As the vampires follow Martock’s calls for help, the rough stones transition to cinder block and the torches are replaced with flickering fluorescent lights. In one strobe of the light, Ethan thinks he spots a towering figure in black.

Heading up some white stairs, they find themselves inside an old hospital. Faded red and yellow stains mar the walls while murmurs and screams emanate from the many locked doors. Unseen Sybil flutters behind them.

Ethan takes careful note of the signs and papers strewn about the halls. He comes to the realization that the hospital is composed of many different medical facilities, all sites of great crimes or tragedies.

Ethan makes the argument to the others that this place was once part of the real world but now consists purely of nightmare.

A towering figure speaks up and corrects him. Instantly they know this is the Inverted Lord. The living shadow tells Ethan that this mixture of nightmare and reality was caused by humanity. The hospital exists in both dreams and the real world at once.

He continues confidently, offering Ethan his help in exchange for the use of his body for a single night. As evidence of his ‘good will’ he tells the Beast, who was lurking behind them, to leave them alone.

The scholar refuses to agree without knowledge of what the Strix will do. The Inverted Lord explains that he believes that Ethan will back out if he is fully aware of his actions or that at least his friends will convince him to do so.

Ethan assures him that he is his own man. The Strix reveals that he seeks to destroy the Old Man and become the dominant monster of the area. To make this project easier he needs vessels, vampiric bodies, for himself and his siblings. He intends to raise seven revenants. The Strix offers that if Ethan creates these beings for him then the monster will aid him in anything that does not go against himself or his direct aims. The Inverted Lord gives him three nights to consider the offer. He also warns Ethan that he will receive no protection should he decline.

The figure disappears and the vampires head down the hall. Unseen Sybil flies after them, having heard everything.

Ethan hears his sire’s sobs behind a door at the end of the hall. He pulls it open.

Beyond lies a black void. Several corroded cages hang above this abyss. In one of them, an ashen faced Martock clings to unlife.

Sybil flies past the men and into the darkness. Elsewhere owls composed of shadow fly down in front of Ethan. These yellow eyed monsters demand the jewel.

Martock whimpers that he gave up all of his secrets. Ethan calls out that he says only told them where it was, hinting that he knows where it lies now. The owls demand the jewel again, claiming they will kill his sire if they don’t get it. He tries to confuse them but they ignore his feeble attempts to claim ignorance. They tell him bring it tonight to a building off Neil Street or Martock dies. Then they grimly explain that they will grab him next.

Meanwhile in the void, Sybil’s bat senses detect a key shaped object where one of the owls had been perching. She flies over and retrieves it. Dropping the key into Martock’s hand, she then flies to safety.

The ravenous vampire unlocks the cage and makes a jump for it. Powered by fear and hunger, he leaps through the darkness.

He doesn’t make it.

Alex throws himself to the edge and grabs hold of the professor’s hands. He pulls the Mekhet up as the Twins screech in rage.

“Get me out of here!” Martock cries, grabbing hold of Ethan and racing down the hall at inhuman speeds. Figures in hospital gowns and scrubs emerge from every door, swinging scalpels and other sharp objects.

Several stab into Alex, pinning him to the wall. Meanwhile Sybil flies above the fray and heads for a fire hose station at the intersection.

As he dangles from his sire’s arm, Ethan tries to convince Martock to go back for Alex while dodging knife blades. As the near frenzying monster finds all exits blocked, Ethan explains he’ll only lead him out if they bring Ethan. Martock spins around and sprints back.

As they reach Alex, Sybil resumes human form and turns on the hose. Water blasts the crowd of attackers, thinning them for the moment.

Martock’s hand blurs as it pulls five blades from Alex’s body, freeing him from the wall. Then together the three vampires race through the path Sybil created and escape through a hidden fire exit with the Gangrel close behind.

As Ethan and Alex rise from the floor of the ruined cellar they find themselves joined by a starving Martock.

Ethan’s phone chimes with a text. “Did Martock escape with you?”

He calls her back and fills her in on the situation as well as the recent happenings.

As the men go hunting, Sybil seeks out the Wolf. She finds the feral Nosferatu packing up his meager belongings. He explains that the recent reports of fires have him on edge. Sybil tells him the Invictus is burning out their rivals. The unaligned vampire suggests that perhaps now is the best time for him to strike at the Elder and get his revenge. If she survived the attack she no longer has any allies. Between the two of them, they should be best placed to track the Elder down. Sybil agrees to help him.

Alex takes Ethan and Martock to a movie theater just as a film concludes. While the neonates attract weak willed if unwilling prey, Martock invisibly sneaks up on a patron and drains him almost dry. Somehow the old monster manages to keep his Beast in check and leaves the mortal for the cleaning crew to discover.

As they leave, Ethan and Alex discuss the current situation with Martock: the Strix, their weaknesses, their goals, and their ties to the Antediluvian. They see two options: return to the mound where Portor found the jewel or chase down the Elder. Martock points out that the mound isn’t going anywhere.

Alex texts Sybil as to their plans to find the Elder. She asks them if they intend to hide the jewel and thus avoiding bringing the heart’s blood of the Antediluvian and her remains to the same place. Ethan hands it to Alex to hide.

Sybil asks the Wolf if they should team up with the others. He agrees as long as he gets to deal with the Elder.

As the Mekhets prepare, Alex puts the jewel inside some boxes which he then has added to his safe deposit box at the local bank.

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